Select company: MSU Law student honored with coveted WLAMF award


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In June, law student Amber Thomas returned to her hometown of Benton Harbor as the commencement speaker for her alma mater, Benton Harbor High School and Dream Academy. The oldest of nine and the first member of her family to go to college, she got an early lift in her career path in a Rotary Club mentoring program, mentored by a county sheriff, judges, lawyers, a dispatcher, and a forensic scientist during her junior and senior years of high school.

Now a 3L student at Michigan State University College of Law, Thomas was honored earlier this year with an Outstanding Women Law Students Award from the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan Foundation (WLAMF).

“Receiving the award was an honor,” she says. “I now have a sisterhood that I’m forever a part of. I was quite shocked I was chosen out of all the qualified women to receive the scholarship. I cannot thank WLAM enough. The WLAM also raised a financial burden for my bar expenses. The award is an incentive as I’m now a reflection of the WLAM.”

Thomas also is the recipient of the Carolyn A. Stell Scholarship Award from the mid-Michigan chapter of WLAM.

Thomas earned her undergrad degree in chemistry, magna cum laude, with a minor in criminal justice from Central State University in Ohio.

After graduation, she interned for judges Michael Newman and Walter H. Rice in the Southern District of Ohio, as part of the Summer Work Experience in Law (SWEL). She attended criminal dockets, bankruptcy court, juvenile court, trials, arraignments, and oral arguments; and reviewed cases and case briefs on social security, criminal, immigration, and civil law on the district and appellate level.

“The judges were very nice,” she says. “I enjoyed seeing an array of cases and hearings and being able to pick the judges’ brain about why they ruled a certain way afterwards. It was also cool to get to know judges as people.”

That summer she also was a SWEL intern for Dinsmore & Shohl in Dayton, where she assisted with litigation research; analyzed and organized medical records for class action litigation; and participated as a juror in the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Mock Trials.

I gained great relationships with a lot of people and got to experience practical skills like attending depositions, discovery, mediation and oral arguments,” she says.   

After graduation, Thomas spent a year in Americorps, teaching 8th grade students at Roosevelt Middle School in Milwaukee.

I enjoyed watching the students meet goals that we set, and overcome obstacles,” she says. “I also enjoyed building relationships with the students. I can’t believe that next year, my students will be high school seniors and I will have to return to Milwaukee to see them graduate.”

A SWEL internship for Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati the summer before starting law school provided her first exposure to in-house counsel and patent law.

I gained great mentors,” she says. “I got to compare my experience to my court and firm experiences. I got to host an event where I invited an array of attorneys and the CLO of P&G to be guest speakers and where other students in my internship program could also learn about the law. I also enjoyed being a part of a “Lean-In” circle.”

She headed to MSU Law with the aim of focusing on criminal law and forensic science, and also to do family law, pro bono.

Growing up in Benton Harbor and completing AmeriCorps made me realize the injustices minorities and children face,” she says. “I wanted to serve and give back to my community and give a voice to those who are not being heard.”

Thomas, who worked as a teaching assistant at MSU Law, enjoys the support system, learning about career opportunities from staff and fellow students, and the collegial environment.

If I forget my book for class, someone will let me borrow theirs,” she says. “People share outlines and class notes. People will help explain material to you that you may not understand. I also enjoy the array of guest speakers my school brings every year so students can network and learn about opportunities in different areas of the law.”

A liaison for the African Heritage Alliance Sisters, last year Thomas served as the social and academic chair for the Black Law Students Association. “I enjoy seeing black people being exemplified for positivity and solidarity,” she says.

Phi Alpha Delta international law fraternity that provides a national network of legal professionals with whom she has a common interest; and serves as president of the Christian Legal Society at MSU Law. “I enjoy this because I constantly get to do God’s work through service,” she says.

This past summer, she clerked for Judge Linda Parker in Flint, was a summer associate at Brooks Kushman, PC, and studied Intellectual Property Law in Croatia.

Thomas currently is externing at Legal Services of South Central Michigan in Lansing. “I really enjoy interacting with clients and seeing that I am making a difference,” she says.

Her career goal is to advocate for the justice of minorities and children by working for the government or a firm. “I’m open to practice areas and always willing to learn,” she says. “I would like to ultimately become a law professor at a historically black college and chief diversity legal counsel at a firm or in-house.”